Develop forms of teaching that constantly encourage children to become “reflective learners” – in reality, the full application of all we now know about metacognition. Plan for the weaning principle from the start. Give children so many usable skills when they are very young that, progressively, they only need “teaching” for those skills they have not yet acquired. Move away from assuming that every lesson has to be taught, that only teachers can teach and that the school can do everything. Take information technology seriously. Concentrate on word-processing for everyone in every subject.

The world of the 2l’t Century will be about continuously managing your own lifelong learning. By 18, every young person needs to be already doing this. When the weaning principle is taken into account, the distribution of resources runs in sympathy with class size. If full and proper provision is not made for children and their families below the age of five, then society has largely missed out on the richest period of children’s predispositions to learn. And the conventional pattern of higher education could change dramatically were the significance of the weaning process to be put in a context of lifelong learning. A radical idea, but still just common sense.

Will politics let this happen? Is there too much institutional inertia locked up in all of this?

We no longer have any intellectual excuse for not reversing an upside down and inside out system of education. Our challenge is to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign learning to go with “the grain of the brain.”

John Abbott’s address was sponsored by the Canadian Alliance of education and Training Institutions.